Traditionally a long weekend, filled with family and friends gathering for tasty barbecues, good music, and so much fun in the sun, that it is sometimes forgotten that this federal holiday is meant to honor the brave men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. This year, I visited the Fort Denaud Cemetery, and stopped to express my gratitude for those who had fallen while defending our country. I pulled some weeds, cleared the leaves and twigs, and replaced a few flags. While taking a solemn walk through the grounds, I happened upon the gravesite of Nicholas J. Cutinha. Cutinha was one of the bravest men who have ever lived, paying the ultimate sacrifice at the age of 23, and was laid to rest right here in our Fort Denaud Cemetery.
A piece of paper posted near his headstone stated: “Cutinha joined the Army from Coral Gables, Florida in 1967, and by March 2, 1968, was serving as a Specialist Four in Company C, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. During a firefight on that day, near Gia Dinh in the Republic of Vietnam, Cutinha held the enemy at bay with his machine gun and provided suppressive fire to allow for the evacuation of wounded soldiers, despite his own serious wounds. He was killed during the battle and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.”
Specialist Cutinha’s official Medal of Honor citation was also posted there, and it reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. While serving as a machine gunner with Company C, Sp4c. Cutinha accompanied his unit on a combat mission near Gia Dinh. Suddenly his company came under small arms, automatic weapons, mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire, from a battalion size enemy unit. During the initial hostile attack, communication with the battalion was lost and the company commander and numerous members of the company became casualties. When Sp4c. Cutinha observed that his company was pinned down and disorganized, he moved to the front with complete disregard for his safety, firing his machine gun at the charging enemy. As he moved forward he drew fire on his own position and was seriously wounded in the leg. As the hostile fire intensified and half of the company was killed or wounded, Sp4c. Cutinha assumed command of all the survivors in his area and initiated a withdrawal while providing covering fire for the evacuation of the wounded. He killed several enemy soldiers but sustained another leg wound when his machine gun was destroyed by incoming rounds. Undaunted, he crawled through a hail of enemy fire to an operable machine gun in order to continue the defense of his injured comrades who were being administered medical treatment. Sp4c. Cutinha maintained this position, refused assistance, and provided defensive fire for his comrades until he fell mortally wounded. He was solely responsible for killing 15 enemy soldiers while saving the lives of at least 9 members of his own unit. Sp4c. Cutinha’s gallantry and extraordinary heroism were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
According to American Legion Post 130 in LaBelle, “Cutinha’s Medal of Honor is under their custodianship, where it is on public display. This is the only known American Legion Post with custodianship of a Medal of Honor in Florida. Cutinha’s medal was presented to the Post by his mother so that it could be displayed and so all who view it might remember that the price of freedom is often paid with the blood of a nation’s youth.”
I urge everyone to pay a visit to the American Legion to see this medal, and pay homage to to Cutinha and all of the amazing and selfless men and women who have given their lives while defending our freedom.
Thank you, To all of our fallen heroes, we thank you. We remember you. We are grateful for you.